By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Sex education in schools is a controversial topic, which may not find many takers. The old timers scoff at the idea and many of them say that it will result only in further degradation of morality. Yet in many countries—as well as in some states in India, sex education has been introduced in schools—and is regarded as beneficial to the children at the most crucial stage of their young life.
Till some years back anything, even remotely connected with sex was taboo in society. If a teege girl asked her mother questions relating to sex or birth of babies—or how the human sperm met the ova, the poor lady would be horrified— or possibly she would regard her daughter to be a pervert or a changeling. turally there would be discussions with the head of the family in whispers—and steps would be taken to bring the mind of the girl to the right direction. And the poor girl would turally be bewildered by the mother’s attitude and would think that she had committed a sin.
Sex was a hush-hush affair—something that the cultured people never discussed—as it was ‘bad’, indecent and obscene. Children must not even know about it—not children of ‘good’ families—they had to be scrupulously kept away from any discussion connected with sex. Stories or novels dealing with intimate love affairs were regarded as obscene literature—no decent girl was allowed to have even a glance of it—let alone read it. If some adult surreptitiously bought such books—they were read in private—and were concealed in the recess of the drawer—lest somebody saw them. Children were not allowed to watch films with intimate love scenes. They grew up without the least knowledge of sex—and they were regarded as ‘good’. It was the case of ‘mother knows best’. turally parents had the last word.
The picture is gradually changing—and parents are realizing that they have to swim with the tide or sink. Sex education is being imparted in schools of many countries as well as in some states in our country—though few people view it with favour—at least in our state. Today the girls can mix freely with boys—within limits. They would be flabbergasted to learn that till some years back most girls were ignorant of sex till they were past their teens. Boys were told that looking or talking to a girl was bad. They also learnt that faIling in love was cheap and vulgar; it was drummed to the boy’s head that no boy from a good family was supposed to fall in love. He had to marry the girl his parents chose—sometimes a girl he never saw in his life. But his life was mapped out by his parents—and he had to be happy with the chosen bride. Two strangers took it for granted that it was their duty to love one another and maintain the family line. In a way they learnt about sex only after marriage—and were kept in ignorance till then—when they had to make experiment with love making. turally the young man felt like a fish out of water—and the girl was too frightened to voice her opinion. Only time used to teach them a few astonishing facts—and married friends occasiolly helped them out, with their profound experience—which may not be all that helpful to the newly wedded couple.
Despite so much progress in every field, society still frowns on discussions about sex. The girls often turn out to be the worst sufferers. They are watched all the time by hawk-eyed over-zealous mothers, who see a ske in every piece of harmless rope, wrap the daughters in cotton wool and confine them to the four walls of home. Even today, in many households, the girl cannot move out a step without some escort to keep an eye on her. Later on when these girls go to colleges and meet boys—they sometimes go overboard and plunge into reckless affairs. Meeting boys for the first time in her life may make her heady. She gets exposed to a whole new world—and after submitting to all those harsh rules made by the parents, she suddenly rebels against them in her new-found freedom—and throws to the winds her morals, scruples as well as prudishness. Due to her reckless love affairs she may become pregnt before long—and thus ends the ‘modest’ tale of a ‘modest’ girl.
If such a thing happens in the life of such a meek and obedient girl, it turally shatters the parents—and the girl’s life too may be ruined—as her boy friend may not agree to marry her—he may even vanish from her life before discovery—which has a devastating impact on the ïve girl. These are the superficial incidents—if you probe deeper, you may stumble on some unsavoury factors. Her parents kept her in too sheltered a position—they confined her in an unreal world—and the real world, which she eventually faced, kept her groping in the dark, to her utter despair.
Things are gradually changing—and the modern parents have realized that sex-education is absolutely necessary for teegers to keep them out of mischief. Many of the modern schools in the country have been trying to impart sex-education to young children to dispel their ignorance. Some of them have made it compulsory in their curriculum. Experts are invited to the schools and they discuss the various aspects of sex. They deal with sex as a tural thing. They teach young children that sex is not merely something physical—it should be seen as growing out of love and conjugal sharing. Children are taught that though sex is an instinct, it is value-based and they should never dishonour it—and that there is a time, an age and a place for it. Otherwise sex turns into a curse.
For imparting education in sex to children in schools, video shows are conducted. Boys and girls turally come to know the realities about menstrual cycle. In our country most girls attach some ignominious meaning to their periods—with their mothers making them believe that it is something to be ashamed of. But after getting lessons in sex education, they learn the facts of life and realize that there is nothing to be ashamed of tural factors. So long this side of life was an unknown factor to them—which was supposed to be something obscene—yet it poured oil into their fire of passion and curiosity—often making them do certain things, which they should not do. After getting sex education from experts they learn about sex, conception and abortion—and decide for themselves whether it is sinful or not to abort an unwanted pregncy.
Children sometime make terrible mistakes and bear the brunt of social strictures due to their ignorance of sex and wrong ideas of parents. One little slip may be so damning that a girl would not be able to hold up her head again. These young children should be taught to respect themselves and their bodies. They ought to realize the value of love and the fact that they themselves are the fruits of love and respect that their parents have for each other. At a particular age children get curious about their growing bodies and the opposite sex. This very tural curiosity about sex in young children often makes parents horrified—but they should not be. It is only something to be expected in a growing child. His curiosity does not make him a freak or someone abnormal—rather the curiosity proves that he is going to be a normal adult with normal feelings. The immature children try to experiment with sex in a few stolen moments. Their innocent love-making may lead to total disaster. But proper sex education by experts will remove their curiosity and clear all the doubts. With all the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ laid before them, the children would make fewer mistakes. Sex-education should start when new realization about life starts dawning on the children. That is the age when they have the most impressioble minds.
Today’s children are more out-spoken than the children of the olden era— parents too are getting more liberal—and most of them are ready to answer questions raised by the children. Nowadays children start asking questions much earlier than they used to do before. This is because they mature faster due to the exposure they get through the media—but all of this is not healthy. And, most of the time, facts are misrepresented and the children get wrong ideas—which is harmful for their character and mental attitude. That is why we should equip the children adequately—so that they do not fall into trouble.
Many children suffer from terrible mental trauma—from broken affairs that go as far as sexual intercourse. They may not emerge unscathed from their awful sexual experience. The basic reason for this is that they do not get proper lessons regarding facts of life. Children cannot talk to parents freely about sex—even the most friendly and modern parents stiffen when such questions are asked. It is much better for the children to get proper knowledge about sex from experts. Getting wrong ideas from inexperienced friend, blue films (watched secretly) or torrid magazines may be disastrous for them.
Some people of course may object to sex education in schools—fearing that it would give wrong ideas to the immature children. They argue that the innocent minds of young children should not be sullied by talks about sex. Besides that, they themselves have grown into normal beings without any sex-education. That may be true—but that’s not a sufficient reason for rejecting sex-education as unnecessary. For instance, a person may argue reasobly well without studying logic, but does it justify the claim that logic is unnecessary?
We must remember that the present age is totally different from earlier times. In that age girls were strictly kept at home—they were watched and protected all the time—and were married off at a young age. But in this age girls are getting education—they often go to co-educatiol institutions. Some tural curiosity does arise in the minds of young boys and girls. It is no longer possible to keep girls confined in their homes. There is moral degradation all around—and the institution of marriage is getting shaky. Cases of pregncy of minor girls are rising at an alarming rate. If only the schools had introduced sex-education, possibly the young children would have realized the folly of getting into intimate relation, which only leads to disaster. Therefore, I believe, that sex education should certainly be introduced in the schools to keep minor children away from calamity.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)